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Prime Sinister: Meet the New Faces of Netanyahu’s Israeli Cabinet

Meet the people who make up Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu's latest cabinet.

After two months of negotiations, Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu has announced the composition of his new cabinet. In addition to Netanyahu, who will continue in his position as premier, two other ministers will retain their previous posts: Defense Minister Moshe Ya’alon and Transportation Minister Yisrael Katz.

Below is a list of some of Netanyahu’s new political appointees and an appraisal of the developments that are likely to follow in each of their respective ministries.

Gila Gamliel, Likud
Gender Equality Minister

The appointment of Israel’s first-ever Minister of Gender Equality may be the only good thing that can be said about Netanyahu’s new government. Rape is rampant in Israel, and any efforts made by Gila Gamliel to combat this scourge on society will be a step in the right direction.

Unfortunately, any pro-feminist points Netanyahu earned for creating this ministry were offset by his other coalition decisions. To assemble the cabinet, Netanyahu brought back his favored negotiator Natan Eshel, fired for secretly filming under a government worker’s skirt. Netanyahu also brought back the only two parties in the Knesset that consistently refuse to field any female candidates, the ultra-Orthodox Yehadut HaTorah and Shas.

Netanyahu also reinstated a minister recently accused of sex crimes (see Interior Minister, below). The State Prosecutor elected not to press charges against the minister due to the statute of limitations, but that does not mean the crimes did not occur. 

Tzipi Hotovely, Likud
Deputy Foreign Minister

Eli Ben Dahan, Jewish Home
Deputy Defense Minister

To the all-important Foreign and Defense Ministries, Netanyahu appointed the two religious Zionist lawmakers who have been the most outspoken opponents of so-called mixed marriages between Jews and non-Jews.

Even before Israel was established, there were fanatical outfits in Jewish society who were so incensed by biracial and bi-religious relationships that they would try to break up mixed couples using physical force, and sometimes even lethal force. Today, the most active anti-miscegenation movement in Israel is Lehava. It protests inter-racial weddings and its members firebombed one of the few schools in Israel where Jews and Arabs study together.

Lehava has powerful patrons within the Israeli government. The group’s leaders were invited to advise a Knesset committee by Tzipi Hotovely. After the group protested the wedding party of a daughter of Jews and a son of Muslims, Eli Ben-Dahan called such marriages “a silent holocaust." Ben Dahan’s desire to prevent mixed marriages would seem to stem from his supremacist religious beliefs. In his previous capacity as Deputy Religious Affairs Minister, Ben Dahan said that “a Jew always has a much higher soul than a goy,” and that Palestinians “are beasts, not humans.”

It is unclear what influence Hotovely and Ben Dahan will have on their respective ministries, being mere deputy ministers. But by crowning them with cabinet positions, Netanyahu legitimizes their repugnant views with a ministerial stamp of approval.

Uri Ariel, Jewish Home
Agriculture Minister

Ariel is a refreshing honest racist, by the strange standards of Israel’s off-kilter political spectrum. In 2014, when the mayor of Ashkelon responded to a Palestinian-on-Israeli terror attack in Jerusalem by firing all Arab citizens building bomb shelters for the municipality, the mayor of Jerusalem retorted, “You can’t outlaw an entire public, as was done in Nazi Germany 70 years ago.” Ariel, however, defended these firings as legitimate.

If there was any doubt about Ariel’s endgame, he made his feelings clear at a 2008 conference, where he said of Palestinian citizens of Israel: “We must encourage Arabs to willingly leave, both from the cities and from the state.”

Until now, as Construction Minister, Ariel ensured that Jewish settlements in the West Bank would continue to grow as rapidly as possible. As Rural Development Minister, Ariel will work to bring back the Prawer Plan, a program to dispossess Bedouin citizens of Israel, cordon them into smaller spaces and replace their former villages with new Jewish towns.

Naftali Bennett, Jewish Home
Education Minister

Polls show that Israeli youth are becoming less tolerant and more racist with each passing year. Anecdotal evidence suggests that Israeli teachers are now afraid to even bring up the topic of human rights, for fear of setting off a racist free-for-all in the classroom.

And yet, the Education Ministers appointed by Netanyahu have consistently tinkered with the curriculum, hoping to create new generations of Jews even more sectarian than previous ones. This year, Israeli children began to learn about the Nazi Holocaust in kindergarten.

As Religious Services Minister in the last Netanyahu government, Jewish Home party leader Naftali Bennett created a new bureaucratic body, the Jewish Identity Administration, to proselytize Orthodox Judaism to secular Israelis. Now that Bennett has been made Education Minister in the new Netanyahu government, he will not need to make use of a proxy organization in order to indoctrinate Israeli youth.

In the months to come, Bennett will likely keep ratcheting up the religious ultra-nationalism in Israeli schools. There’s no reason to expect any subtlety from the man who boasted in 2013, “I’ve killed many Arabs in my life and there’s no problem with that.”

Ayelet Shaked, Jewish Home
Justice Minister

Another member of the Jewish Home Party to be rewarded with a high office for dehumanizing Palestinian people is Ayelet Shaked. In July 2014, a day before a group of Israeli Jews kidnapped a Palestinian teen and burned him to death, Shaked told her Facebook followers that all Palestinian people deserve to die.

Specifically, she posted a screed stating: “Enough with the oblique references… words have meanings… the entire Palestinian people is the enemy… they are all enemy combatants, and their blood shall be on all their heads. Now this also includes the mothers… otherwise, more little snakes will be raised…."

It is frightening to imagine the havoc Shaked could wreak in any position of power. But with her appointment to the Justice Ministry, it's obvious that her mission is to weaken the judicial branch of the government from within. Although Israel’s Supreme Court Justices usually rubber-stamp the government’s oppressive policies, on occasion they also overturns laws they consider too racist to whitewash. But Israel’s ultra-nationalists feel the country is not galloping toward Gomorrah with enough haste, so they wish to remove all constraints from the Knesset.

Once Shaked manages to sap the strength of the High Court, the first ones to suffer will be one of her favorite political punching bags: non-Jewish African asylum-seekers. After the court twice quashed a law criminalizing the would-be refugees, Shaked will ensure that the court is deprived of the power to pull off a hat trick.

Miri Regev, Likud
Culture Minister

Miri Regev is another lawmaker fond of inciting racial hatred and devoted to depopulating Israel of African asylum-seekers. Exactly three years ago, she triggered a mini-pogrom when she told thousands of anti-African protesters that the asylum-seekers are Israel’s “cancer." In the days following the racist frenzy, she apologized to Israeli cancer victims for daring to compare them to Africans. Six months later, Regev proclaimed in a televised interview that she was “happy to be a fascist.”

In the previous government, Netanyahu rewarded Regev by appointing her head of the Interior Committee, the very Knesset committee that determines the fate of asylum-seekers. In the new government, Regev will serve as Culture Minister, where she will continue the work begun by her predecessor Limor Livnat, silencing dissent by cutting funds to artists whose works she deems to be insufficiently patriotic.

Silvan Shalom
Interior Minister

Silvan Shalom is used to being treated with deference. His wife’s family owns Israel’s top-selling newspaper. He is the second-richest member of Knesset, with an approximate net worth of $39 million. He would have preferred to be Israel’s president by now, but he had to drop out of that contest after a former assistant accused him of sex crimes.

The Interior Ministry has traditionally been a powerful position in the Israeli government, as it inherited many of the functions of the British High Commissioner. Unfortunately for Shalom, just before he was appointed to the post, Netanyahu stripped the ministry of its authority over urban planning, leaving him in charge of not much more than issuing ID cards and entry visas.

To mollify Shalom, Netanyahu also named him Deputy Prime Minister, a powerless position, hoping to assuage his bruised ego. He also asked Shalom to coordinate peace talks with the Palestinian Authority, although as it now stands this is another empty gesture, since the two sides have not held talks in over a year. In any case, with Shalom at the helm, peace talks are unlikely to bear fruit, as he backs settlement construction and has never supported a two-state solution.

Despite all the changes made to the Interior Ministry, its top official will still determine the fate of the 50,000 non-Jewish African asylum-seekers living in Israel. Shalom is expected to continue the policies of his predecessors, if his public statements and voting record are any indication. In March 2011, upon learning that African asylum-seekers amounted to 13% of the population of Eilat, Shalom proclaimed that they “threaten the future of the city.” In December 2014, Shalom voted with the government to subvert the Supreme Court and continue rounding the refugees into desert detention centers, and from there back to Africa.

Yariv Levin, Likud
Public Security Minister

As the new Minister of Public Security, Yariv Levin will be in charge of those aforementioned desert detention centers for African immigrants. These new responsibilities are only fitting, since it was Levin’s racist scaremongering on the night of the May 2012 proto-pogrom that helped catalyze national sentiment into support for placing African asylum-seekers in those camps.

Levin will also inherit authority over Israel’s national police force, at a time when police are facing charges of racial prejudice. But don’t expect Levin to hold police to treat all citizens equally under the law, regardless of race or religion. In the last Knesset, he championed legislation that designated Christians as being separate from other Arabs, in order to weaken the standing of the country’s Muslim citizens.

Ze’ev Elkin, Likud
Immigrant Absorption Minister

As I write these words, Israelis of Ethiopian descent are marching through the streets of Tel Aviv, protesting police brutality and systemic racism. A significant chunk of their anger is directed at the Absorption Ministry, which has exploited them and made it difficult for them to succeed in Israeli society.

If Netanyahu wanted to make good on his promise to be responsive to the pleas of the protestors, he could have appointed an Ethiopian-Israeli as the new Minister of Absorption, as a sign of goodwill. Instead, he appointed Ze’ev Elkin, who was born in the former Soviet Union. 

Fellow Soviet-born Sofa Landver, who has served as Absorption Minister for the past six years, commented on the recent protests during her final days in office, saying that Israeli police are not racist against Ethiopian-Israelis, but rather, Ethiopian-Israelis are racist against her. Elkin was the author of the 2011 Boycott Law making it a civil crime for any Israeli to call upon others to boycott businesses because of their location. The purpose of the law is to invert the efforts of the few Israelis who wish to penalize the profiteers of the occupation of the West Bank, by forcing them to personally pay for the lost potential profits of any boycotted business. After the Supreme Court dismissed a challenge to the law last month, there is now no legal way for Israelis to effectively protest apartheid rule.

David Sheen is an independent journalist and filmmaker. His website is www.davidsheen.com and he tweets from @davidsheen.

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